After releasing my “Decade Ahead” rankings for the ACC, an old college buddy reconnected with me and asked if he could do the same for his beloved SEC. Given that he coaches football and works in collegiate athletics, I figured he was pretty knowledgeable and worthy (if not overqualified) to write a guest blog post. He took a decidedly shorter-term view, looking only to next season, rather than the long 5-10 year window I attempted to write towards. Don’t worry, he promises the decade outlook is on the way. So here it is, I hope you enjoy as much as I did.
After another exciting College Football season, now comes the bowl lull. That lovely period every year where fans are experiencing withdrawal and are coping the best they can by watching uninspired NFL matchups (e.g., Cardinals vs. Seahawks last Sunday). The other best way to cope with the lull is to have the fun and unproductive debate of who will improve and who will digress next season. To pass the time until the first bowl game (which be honest, no matter how bad it is you will watch) let us explore next season’s outlook in the SEC.
Love it or hate it the SEC has been the face of college football for the past six to 10 years (you can thank Ohio State and the rest of the Big Ten for that for getting hosed every year by the SEC in the BCS). The conference continues to roll out great teams every year and the next season should be no exception.
(My somewhat early) 2013 SEC Power Rankings:
1. Alabama – As has become custom, we will all pencil in the Tide as the best in the conference and most likely a top three preseason ranked team. The fact is, the sport’s most polarizing coach, (outside of the wildly entertaining Steve Spurrier) Nick Saban, has built Tuscaloosa into the home of the country’s perennial powerhouse on the football field. The Crimson Tide has redefined the phrase “We don’t rebuild, we reload” as year after year they churn out NFL prospects and plug in new pieces which perform at that same high level.
Next season will be no exception, the young defense will get another off-season under their belt and emerge as an even more fierce and well-schooled unit than they have been this season. Offensively, we have seen the emergence of freshmen running back T.J. Yeldon and freshman reciever Amari Cooper, which has SEC foes shaking that they will have to defend these playmakers for at least two more seasons. They will be a consistent unit that will have a slight tail off from this season as they replace pieces on the offensive line. This will not be enough to keep the Tide from rolling more next season with a relatively weak SEC schedule.
P.S. Virginia Tech better duck for cover week one as Alabama routinely beats up on their prime time early season matchups.
Projected 2013 Record: 12-0
2. Florida – This pick may be a slight surprise to many of you as Florida is poised to lose its three best players next season (Gillislee, Elam, and Floyd). However, it is what the Gators return from this Sugar Bowl bound squad that makes them so deadly and has Gainesville buzzing. The defense will return three starters along the defensive line, three at linebacker (with injured “buck” linebacker and fierce pass rusher Ronald Powell returning), and two deep at corner (four in total). With all this talent returning from a unit which is arguably the nation’s best defense this season, there is plenty of reason for optimism.
On the other side of the ball, the Gators will return Quarterback Jeff Driskel, who continues to mature and improve with each passing week, four starting offensive lineman (the Gators will also add two transfers to the line up next season both of which were starters at Nebraska and Maryland), and four receivers. The question marks on offense surround the return of TE Jordan Reed, who was UF’s best receiving threat, and the RB situation. There will be at least a three-headed monster in the backfield at the start of Fall camp, with incumbent Matt Jones competing with incoming freshman Kelvin Taylor (son of NFL and UF legend Fred Taylor) and Adam Lane. This season’s improvement and gained experience by such a young team adds to the likelihood that Will Muschamp’s bunch takes aim at Pasadena next season.
Projected 2013 Record: 12-0
3. LSU – Once again, the Mad Hatter will put an LSU team out on the field that will win double-digit games. Playing in front of the raucous fans in Death Valley (Sorry Clemson fans, but they do have the hardware to stake claim) is the best home field advantage in the conference outside of the Swamp. LSU continues to recruit top talent and seems to find a new playmaker in the back field each season. Their depth of talent overcomes the poor in-game coaching by the coaching stuff and fuels them to the success.
The reason that the Bayou Bengals are listed only third here, despite my predictions of them beating Bama and Florida, is due to their inconsistency. The Tigers seem to lose their cool at some point every season and are unable to get over the hump in the big game against their SEC adversaries. Whether it is being outcoached in the BCS National Championship Game where they struggled to get to midfield or getting bullied in the Swamp this season, the Tigers just don’t seem capable of consistently making the adjustments necessary in the big games. Next season will prove to have the same issues (not to mention traveling to Bryant Denny) that will keep the Tigers outside of Atlanta, looking in.
Projected 2013 Record: 10-2 (losses to Alabama and UF)
4. Texas A&M - Johnny Football ladies and gentlemen! The redshirt freshman phenom will be back and ready to take his Aggies to Atlanta. One problem… well, make that two problems: attrition and history. The Aggies lose a lot of talent from their current team next season, namely LT Luke Joekel, LB Sean Porter, and Manzeil’s favorite target Uzoma Nwachukwu. Three big pieces in the machine will be gone and need to be replaced; it will be interesting to see if they can be. History is the other problem Johnny Heisman will have to deal with. After Heisman winning seasons players not only typically have bad bowl game performances, but they struggle the following year. Let’s look at Tim Tebow. He starred in 2007 and put up gaudy numbers that many didn’t think would ever be matched. The following year his touchdown production sunk by double digits (Percy Harvin had a lot to do with that). The fact remains that losing your favorite targets, defenses having a year to study your film, and a regression to the mean all typically lead to more of a solid year for Manziel rather than a repeat performance. Also watch out for a motivated Alabama team rolling into Kyle Field. Keep your head on a swivel young man.
Projected 2013 Record: 10-2 (losses to Alabama and LSU)
5. UGA – Short and Sweet: the Dawgs will lose a ton of talent on defense. This team will win games in shootouts with “Gurshell” (running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall) leading the way and Aaron Murray making big plays in the play-action passing game. This team will be a ton of fun to watch but without a stout defense behind them, most notably Jarvis Jones, I do not see this team getting past the conference’s best teams.
P.S. I hope the Red and Black enjoyed their soft schedules while they have had them… Clemson and LSU join South Carolina and Florida as tough teams that will come calling.
Projected 2013 Record: 9-3 (losses to Clemson, LSU, and Florida)
6. South Carolina, Columbia Campus – No Lattimore, no SEC East title. It’s really is that simple. Connor Shaw has not proven he can take Cocky to the next level and Dylan Thompson still doesn’t have the experience to thrive in the SEC. Without Marcus Williams-Brice may not be the happiest place this next season.
Projected 2013 Record: 9-3 (losses to UGA, Arkansas, and UF)
7. Arkansas – Tons of talent remain on roster for the Hogs. Bielema seems to be an odd choice, but he will certainly be able to keep egos in check and create the discipline and accountability that John L. Smith just couldn’t. They’ll be a much improved team, but still just unable to keep pace with the big boys.
Projected 2013 Record: 8-4 (losses to A&M, UF, Alabama, and LSU)
8. Ole Miss – Hugh Freeze is making believers of SEC fans. I think I am one of them. I am on the bandwagon and while this season won’t be a home run for the Rebs, there will continue to be improvement for a program that was a doormat just a year ago.
Projected 2013 Record: 7-5 (losses to Alabama, Auburn, LSU, A&M, and Arkansas)
9. Auburn – Malzahn was the right hire for Auburn. This is not because he has the proven track record and will keep the Tigers in the mix for the long haul. It is because AD Jay Jacobs has a short fuse and the fans have a shorter one. Malzahn has the right offense for this roster and the Tigers will be much improved from the dumpster fire season they had this year. (They rank below Ole Miss, due to a soft schedule.)
Projected 2013 Record: 8-4 (losses to LSU, A&M, Arkansas, and UGA)
10. Mississippi State – Mullen has found the glass ceiling in Starkville. He clearly recognizes it, thus his flirting with the Colorado job, and wants to move on. However he is stuck there again for another year and his Bulldogs will flounder in the brutal SEC West again next season.
Projected 2013 Record: 6-6 (losses to Oklahoma St., Auburn, Ole Miss, South Carolina, UGA, and A&M)
11. Vanderbilt – James Franklin has the Dore’s trending upward. Unfortunately trending upward isn’t enough to get past the bullies. Watch out for this team in three to five years though.
Projected 2013 Record: 7-5 (losses to Ole Miss, South Carolina, UGA, A&M, and UF)
12. Tennessee– Butch Jones, huh? Good luck to you Vol fans. I am sure the Fire AD Dave Hart sites will start before the Fire Butch Jones ones do.
Projected 2013 Record: 5-7 (losses to Oregon, UF, UGA, S. Carolina, Alabama, Auburn, and Vandy)
13. Missouri– The Tigers are going to drunk dial the Big 12 at some point this next season and ask to get back together.
Projected 2013 Record: 5-7 (losses to Vandy, UGA, UF, South Carolina, UT, Ole Miss, and A&M)
14. Kentucky – Welcome to the party Mark Stoops. You aren’t going to like your goody bag.
Projected 2013 Record: 3-9 (losses to Louisville, UF, South Carolina, Alabama, Miss. St, Mizzou, Vandy, UGA, and UT)
Please be sure to leave your comments, and I’ll be sure to have our esteemed guest blogger respond to defend his position. Thanks for the guest post! You’re welcome back to write more as our SEC expert.
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